The Oscars: Watchable at Last?

JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY:

“More Show, Less Biz” makes for a more watchable Oscar.

In the Barbara Walters pre-Oscar special, Hugh Jackman promises an Academy Awards ceremony that offers “a little more show, a little less biz,” which sounds like a welcome departure for a program that historically takes itself very seriously.  I am eager to see what the 81st Annual Academy Awards have in store – so I settle in to watch with my husband and my parents, fellow pop culture junkies who are visiting this weekend.

Hugh Jackman’s Opening

There is no possible way that anyone could not like Hugh Jackman.  He’s handsome, a triple threat, and he seems to be a really nice guy who isn’t totally self-impressed.  His “low budget” opening number is hysterical, and I’m blown away by his talent.  And how about that Anne Hathaway?  The word that comes immediately to mind is luminous.  A fun, promising start to the night.

Best Supporting Actress

Awards given out by committee?  This is new, and I like it.  Interesting that former winners pay tribute to this year’s nominees, instead of the old routine “here’s a clip” before the winner is announced.  Whoopi Goldberg’s nod to Sister Act brought a chuckle – and am I the only one who forgot that Goldie Hawn won an Academy Award?  She looks rather out of her element, standing between Angelica Huston and Tilda Swinton.

And Penelope Cruz takes it?  Wow.  EW predicted this, but I thought Viola Davis would triumph (though I was rooting for Marisa Tomei.)  Cruz’s breathy acceptance speech is endearing.

Best Original/Adapted Screenplay

Steve Martin and Tina Fey presenting this award – great call, winning combination.  Two very good writers and skilled comics.  Their entrance was inventive, and the presentation of the nominees was smart and stylish.

Dustin Lance Black’s win for Milk isn’t a surprise, and his heartfelt speech made me well up.  Likewise, Simon Beaufoy’s victory for Slumdog Millionaire was predicted many times over.  Love that he thanked Vikas Swarup, the author of Q&A – every winner in the adapted category should do this.

Animation Movie Yearbook/Best Animated Movie/Best Animated Short

Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black?  They look tremendously uncomfortable, which is making me squirm as a result.  The montage is fun, despite the shrill, anxiety-inducing music that accompanies it.  Wall-E wins the award for full-length (another one that was expected and well-deserved).  Watching clips of the short films made me very sad that I’d not seen the majority of them.  La Maison en Petits Cubes takes it, and Kunio Kato thanks his pencil and quotes Styx.  I want to marry him.

Art Direction/Costume Design/Makeup

Sarah Jessica Parker and Daniel Craig present awards for Art Direction, Costume Design and Makeup on a set designed to look like a backstage area.  Interesting concept.  Given the awards she’s presenting, it’s ironic to note that SJP looks like a wax representation of herself, and the dress is reminiscent of a cake topper.

Benjamin Button wins for Art Direction and Makeup, and The Duchess for Costume Design.  I’m disappointed that Hellboy 2 is snubbed, though not surprised.  Besides, I am fully prepared for a superhero movie victory when Heath Ledger inevitably will win for his performance in The Dark Knight.

My husband and father just commented that they’re bored and want more Hugh Jackman.  I agree that, thus far, the results have been very predictable, but I’m enjoying how the awards and nominees themselves have been presented.

Romance 2008 Yearbook

Robert Pattinson and Amanda Seyfried introduce this montage, which somehow keeps from being schmaltzy.  I would like to take a moment to express my extreme annoyance at the number of clips from Twilight – and at the simple fact that Pattinson is big enough to appear.  I am miffed.  Perhaps it is time for more Jackman, after all….

Cinematography

I am so over Ben Stiller, and I really hate the dig at Joaquin Phoenix.  Just not funny.  But, it’s Stiller, who is only palatable when surrounded by more talented and legitimately funny comedians, so I shouldn’t be surprised.  Poor Natalie Portman.  She should not have to endure this nonsense.  Slumdog takes it.  Good.

Scientific Technical Awards Recap

Jessica Biel?  Has she worked recently?  And why is she wearing this awful dress?  I actually feel really bad for the winners from the Scientific Technical Awards – because they do amazing things, and no one knows about it.  Also, because they have D-listers like Biel hosting their ceremonies.  More information on these awards and the winners can be found here.

Comedy 2008 Yearbook/Best Live-Action Short

James Franco and Seth Rogen’s slacker-chic schtick does not disappoint.  I laughed out loud several times.  When Franco, Rogen and Janusz Kaminsky present, Mom, Dad and husband are all still giggling.  I have not seen any of the nominees for Live Action Short, and thus cannot comment intelligently on the outcome.

What in the sweet hell is this?

Hooray!   Jackman has a little headset mic on!  A song is imminent!  But NOOO!  Beyonce is hijacking my Jackman.  And Zach Efron and Vanessa Hudgens?!  And who the hell is the guy singing with Amanda Seyfried? Husband and father are now sorry they asked for a musical number.  Even Jackman can’t transcend this mess.

Best Supporting Actor

The montage of acceptance speeches made me smile, and I’m thrilled with the former winners they’ve selected to present the award.  Arkin flubs Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s name at the first mention, but corrects himself.  The fact that Joel Grey is announcing Josh Brolin makes me blissfully happy.  Cuba Gooding, Jr. is clearly the Goldie Hawn of this category, but his introduction of Robert Downey, Jr. is hysterical.  And Christopher Walken and Kevin Kline?  It just doesn’t get better.   Heath Ledger wins – deservedly.  I actually feel sorry for the other nominees, because they just didn’t have a shot.  His family’s acceptance speech marks the second time I tear up.

Best Documentary/Best Documentary Short

Love this smart presentation of the nominees, and LOVE that the delightfully cranky Bill Maher presents this award.  Man on Wire takes it.  And who is this funny man in the leather suit?  I might like him even better than Kunio Kato.  Smile Pinki wins for Doc Short.  As hare lips and cleft palates run in my family, this pleases me.

I have just been told by the announcer to stay tuned for Will Smith.  Frankly, I’d rather not.

Action 2008 Montage/Best Visual Effects/Sound Editing/Sound Mixing/Film Editing

Since the action genre doesn’t normally get Oscar nods, this seems perhaps a bit out of place, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless.  I am bracing myself for Will Smith to present whatever comes next.

And, I’m right.  In this case, I’d prefer not to be right.  I mean, Will Smith seems like a nice enough guy.  He just happens to be movie poison.  I liked him in Six Degrees of Separation, and I watched the Fresh Prince, but that’s about it.

Benjamin Button wins Visual Effects, which surprises me.  I thought this was another one for The Dark Knight, which does win Sound Editing.  (Personally, I wanted Wall-E to be rewarded for its subtlety, but no dice.)  Slumdog brings home both the Sound Mixing and Film Editing.  Dad wakes himself up with a loud snore and declares, “This is interminable,” and then notes that Chris Dickens, who accepts the film editing award, looks like Moby.

We are all dismayed that a tribute to Jerry Lewis looms over us.  If I didn’t have to watch the entire awards show to write this piece, I would absolutely change the channel for this.  I’d rather watch Will Smith.

The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

Eddie Murphy presents this award to Jerry Lewis, neither of whom I think is funny – but then again, we’re acknowledging Lewis’s work with muscular dystrophy, which is indeed admirable.  Watching his speech makes me like him, and now I feel bad for just having been snarky.

Best Original Score/Best Original Song

The orchestral interlude was lovely, and I’m snapped out of my reverie by another Zach Efron appearance.  Alicia Keys, however, is stunning.  Slumdog’s A.R. Rahman picks up the awards for Best Original Score, and Best Original Song for “Jai Ho.”

All three performances for the Best Original Song nominees are excellent.  I love John Legend, but I do not envy him for being sandwiched between the gorgeous spectacle of both Slumdog songs.

Best Foreign Language Film

I haven’t seen any of these, but truly want to see them all.  Departures wins, and I’m surprised, as I thought this one would go to Waltz With Bashir.

In Memoriam

Queen Latifah is maybe a little too smiley for this reverent job, but she sings beautifully.  Fitting to end with Paul Newman, and I didn’t notice any major snubs, like last year’s omission of Brad Renfro.

Best Director

This is a tough category – all fantastic directors – but, as expected, Danny Boyle wins for Slumdog Millionaire.  His Tigger hop could have been goofy, but worked.  I am pleased that this film is doing so well.  I loved it, and I’ve long been a fan of Boyle’s.

Best Actress

A lovely assortment of previous winners graces the stage to present this award.  Anne Hathaway seems genuinely honored to have Shirley MacLaine address her (and, by the way, how amazing does Shirley MacLaine look??).  Winslet, as expected, is the winner.  Her acceptance speech, like the one she gave at the Golden Globes and was criticized for, is dizzy and rambling, but I love it.  Winslet is effervescent, which is so much more fun to watch than a poised acceptance speech.  Privately, I was hoping for Anne Hathaway to win, but I am certain she’ll have her day.

Best Actor

Disclaimer:  If Mickey Rourke does not win this, I might be too devastated to continue writing this piece.

Robert DeNiro, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Adrian Brody, Michael Douglas – not a bad lineup.  DeNiro gets a few laughs introducing Sean Penn.  Kingsley’s tribute to Mickey Rourke brings the third set of tears to my eyes this evening.

And, wow.  Sean Penn.  He was amazing, yes.  But… but.  Mickey Rourke!  First he loses his 18 year-old chihuahua and BFF, Loki (for whom he had a tiny tuxedo fashioned for this evening), and now this!?  I’ve been complaining all night that I wanted a surprise, but not this one.  I will say that Penn’s acceptance speech hit all the right marks, and I was honestly pleased that he acknowledged Rourke at the end of it.

Best Picture

This montage was a little weird to me.  I think I’m too tired to pinpoint exactly why.  In theory, I like the idea of hearkening back to other films while introducing this year’s nominees, but it just didn’t quite work.

Winner is… Slumdog Millionaire.  Zzzzzzzzz.  Don’t get me know, I’m glad, and I agree – I thought it was a wonderful film.  But I’ve known this would win since it was announced as a nominee.

The Recap

All in all, an entertaining show.  Jackman was a good host, though he wasn’t as present as I’d have liked.  While most of the winners weren’t exactly a surprise, the new format gave the show versatility, the chance to have fun and the opportunity to be heartfelt.  All in all, a better ceremony than any in recent memory.

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